Null Results in Assessing Survey Score Comparability: Illustrating Measurement Invariance Using Item Response Theory

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Abstract

In using organizational surveys for decision-making, it is essential to consider measurement equivalence/invariance (ME/I), which addresses the questions of whether score differences are attributable to differences in the latent variable we intend to measure, or attributable to confounding differences in measurement properties. Due to the tendency for null results to remain unpublished, most articles have focused on findings of, and reasons for violations of ME/I. On the other hand, little is available to practitioners and researchers concerning situations where ME/I can be expected to uphold. This is especially disconcerting due to the fact that the null is the desired result in such analyses, and allows for unfettered observed-score comparisons. This special issue presents a unique opportunity to provide such a discussion using real-world examples from an organizational culture survey. In doing so we hope to clear up confusion surrounding the concept of ME/I, when it can be expected, and how it relates to actual differences in scores. First, we review the basic tenets and past findings focusing on ME/I, and discuss the item response theory differential item functioning framework used here. Next, we show ME/I being upheld using organizational survey data wherein violations of ME/I would reasonably not be expected (i.e., the null hypothesis was predicted and supported), and simulate the consequences of ignoring ME/I. Finally, we suggest a set of conditions wherein ME/I is likely to be upheld.